Putting industry first

OPINION: What has changed since the Road Transport Forum came into being in the early ’90s?

Iwas looking for something to read the other night. My best friend and mother of my kids usually keeps me supplied with reading material from the local library. I’d just finished the life story of Douglas Bader, the double amputee who flew Spitfires during WW2. Among our collection I spotted a book spine titled, Putting Safety First. I couldn’t remember that title. Bugger me – my memory. The book was presented to me by Peter Roche and is subtitled ‘A History of the Australian Trucking Association’ (ATA). The ATA started its life as the Road Transport Forum (RTF) – to which I was the first owner-driver elected. I’m not too proud of my time there as I was not verbal or forceful enough.

The RTF came about as a result of the transport industry’s succumbing to the unfettered competition that resulted in driving excessive hours and driving at excessive speed.

My son has a heritage prime mover which is still painted company colours and still capable of 100mph (161km/h). It wasn’t modified aftermarket but was supplied ex-factory with those specifications. Everyone was doing it and it was causing terrible trauma, both physical (numerous fatalities) and to industry reputation. Something had to be done.

What impresses me now is that what was achieved was done through direct connection between industry representatives and politicians. There was limited bureaucratic involvement. People like Peter Roche, Ron Finemore, Denis Robertson, Bruce McIvor, Don Forysth, Ted Pickering and many others had direct access to politicians of the day – Bruce Baird (disparagingly called ‘Brylcreem Bruce’), Federal Transport Minister Bob Brown and more.

As is the still the case, the New South Wales government then demonstrated a desire to hammer the industry (industry discrimination) with draconian legislation. It was an industry suggested solution to speed-limit trucks to 100km/h – not a suggestion from politicians or bureaucracy. Indeed, from memory a big issue regarding speeding trucks was the industry proposed enforcement measure of the grounding of heavy vehicles detected at speeds considerably above the prescribed limit.

Politically correct

A point not covered in Putting Safety First is the issue of the ATA’s support and industry support for setting up of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) – simply because the not-so-national NHVR came after the book’s publication.

I absolutely accept that time and business constraints on industry people demanded that another organisation had to be in place to drive national uniformity – that uniformity being both in the interests of driver mental health caused through stress of having to comply with conflicting state regulation and the severe economic impact of complying with different regulations across borders. However, transitioning to relying on bureaucracy to drive unification has meant the need has lost all the imperative. We’ve got to the situation where one group of bureaucrats must liaise with another group – and bureaucracy has been very successful in promoting the politically correct principle.

Not too many people enjoy criticism – me included. But when results are not being delivered? Page 75: Safety Initiative. The RTF’s first resolution was to convince governments around Australia of the need for national uniform laws and charges, and to leave regulation and accreditation in the hands of industry. Methinks someone has dropped the ball, big time. What has happened to the determination for one nation, one regulation?

RELATED ARTICLE: NSW launches formal inquiry into pressures facing truck drivers 

In past articles I’ve talked about varying speeds allowed for over-dimensional vehicles between states; the failure to adhere to the constitutional requirement that trade between states be free and the frequent passing of dimensional regulation that gives a particular industry size exemption. Surely if any product is safe at a dimension – than all products should be safe at that dimension. For one thing the practice is further confusion for both enforcement and already stressed drivers. 

Putting revenue before safety again – allowing pocket roadtrains on Cunninghams Gap. There are several tight corners on that road with unloaded trains overtaking loaded, and trains coming down must juggle trailer swept paths that can have prime movers crossing the double line to accommodate that swept path with adjacent trucks being overtaken.

Integrity? The wish expressed that kilometre rates for drivers be made illegal. I worked for hourly rates early in my career. In the end it was stopped because some operators made a habit of hanging out to boost hours. I cannot condone shortcutting to bolster income. And I must comment that I suspect that those suggesting such are personally subject to bending rules to better their own outcome.

Yes, pay a fair rate but let’s stop judging others by our own level of integrity.  

KEN WILKIE has been an owner-driver since 1974, after first getting behind the wheel at 11. He’s on his eighth truck, and is a long-time Owner//Driver contributor. He covers Rockhampton to Adelaide and any point in between. His current ambition is to see the world, and to see more respect for the nation’s truckies. Contact Ken at 

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